Do you have a service animal or know someone who does? If so, you probably know how devastating it would be if the animal was to lose its eyesight.

To "preserve the sight of those who serve us all selflessly" is a primary goal of the 5th annual American College of Veterinary Ophthalmologists (ACVO)/ Merial National Service Animal Eye Exam event. Last year, more than 4,000 service dogs received free eye screening exams from veterinary ophthalmologists who donated over $250,000 worth of services.

Qualifying dogs include guide dogs, hearing dogs, handicapped assistance dogs, detection dogs, police dogs, search and rescue dogs, and formally trained and certified therapy dogs (through the Delta Society or a similar national, regional or local certifying organization). Dogs must be actively working (i.e., not retired) or currently enrolled in a formal training program. Other service animals are also eligible, including horses that assist in search and rescue.

Animals can be registered for this year’s event from April 1-30 using an online form available at Once registered, owners will have access to a list of participating veterinary ophthalmologists. Register early to give yourself the best shot at reserving a slot with the clinic you want. Make sure you tell the receptionist that you are participating in the ACVO Service Animal event, and provide your registration number when scheduling your appointment. The free exams will take place in May.

During the appointment, the veterinary ophthalmologist will examine the service animal’s eyes for redness, squinting, corneal cloudiness, retinal disease, cataracts, and more. If a problem is found, additional diagnostic tests may be necessary. Treatment recommendations can be discussed with the ophthalmologist. Owners will be provided with a record of the exam results, a copy of which should be given to the service dog’s primary care veterinarian.

Take a look at the ACVO/Merial Annual Service Animal Eye Exam Event Public Service Announcement video and pass on information about this valuable event to anyone you think might qualify. Over 200 veterinary ophthalmologists in the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada have volunteered this year — let’s put them to work!

Dr. Jennifer Coates

Image: She wears ‘em well by This Year’s Love / via Flickr